Object of the Month: Celebrating African American History

One of Our Favorite Things…

Trying to select a favorite item in the Arden Craft Shop Museum is like trying to make a choice from the dessert tray of a special restaurant. You know everything is delicious, but some things may be more delicious than others. The same is true at ACSM. The variety of paintings, ceramics, sculpture and the great quantity of documents; from theatre programs to sales catalogues, is amazing. Each item prompts its own response, perhaps a smile of memory or a feeling of admiration for the artist and their vision.

One of my favorite items at ACSM is the small wooden desk and chair from the old Arden School.  It sits in a corner in the main room near the file cabinet.  It is not hand made or decorated with carving; in fact it is quite utilitarian. Many visitors would recognize it from their own school days as the design did not change for decades. It is sturdy; a bit scratched and very unassuming. It is one of my favorite things not so much for what it is, but for what it represents.

In the summer of 1952, the Anderson family in Ardencroft asked the Trustees of the Arden School if they would permit two of their young children to attend the school on the Village Green. Such a request many seem unimportant, unless we know the whole history – the Anderson family was Black and the Arden School was identified as a White school. During that summer Louis Redding, a Wilmington attorney, had won a suit before the Delaware Supreme Court.  The Delaware Court decided that Black children could be admitted to previously all White schools if the segregated schools they had been attending did not meet the current “separate but equal” standards. The suit Mr. Redding brought to the court involved schools in Claymont and Hockessin. The State of Delaware appealed the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The School Trustees, Edmund Hurlong, Harold Monfort, and C.S.Zunaser held a town-wide meeting and their decision to admit the children was approved unanimously. In addition a petition was sent to the governor to create a state commission on human rights. The State Board of Education first approved the actions of the School Trustees and later rescinded their action.  In October, 1952, the trustees of Arden notified the Board that any Black children living in the three villages would be admitted to the Arden School. The State Board of Education did not take any action on this situation.  We can assume they were too busy preparing for the case which became known as Brown vs. The Board of Education. This case was finally decided May 17, 1954, when the U. S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal doctrine.”

So at the ACSM, there is a little old wooden desk and chair from the old Arden School.  The desk is a bit worn, has seen some hard times and could scarcely be called beautiful, but then so often beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Our School was at the fore-front of one of this nation’s epic transformations. In our community we have always valued beauty, art, self-expression and people.  We are fortunate to have ACSM as a place in which those values are always on display.

Barbara Anne Macklem

Arden, Delaware

A version of this appeared in The Arden Page, November 2008

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